Usk Castle

The castle stands on a spur overlooking the River Usk and consists of three wards built on the site of a Roman fort.  In total the fortress occupies an area about 700 feet by 500.  The innermost ward, some 260 feet long by 175 feet across, is encased by curtain walls with towers at intervals.  The late 13th century north tower is D-shaped with a large square-headed doorway.  On the first floor is a fireplace which shows that the tower was residential.  The adjoining banqueting hall is 14th century with later additions.   Along its S side is a buttressed wall with two windows and a doorway, with a third window above.  The W wall has a further, large window and there is a fireplace in the N wall at first floor level.  The Garrison tower to the W is circular and located midway along the curtain wall.  This truly impressive tower, similar to some at Chepstow, stands to its full height of 4 storeys with a crenallated parapet, and there are doors into it on either side from the curtain wall.  At a level corresponding to the top of the curtain wall is a small passageway leading to a garderobe on the N side and a spiral staircase on the S side.  The next tower in the enceinte is also round and stands in the S corner to the same height as the adjoining curtain walls.  A doorway survives on the N side.  To the NE there is a large gateway with a pointed arch.  To the N of the gateway is another fireplace and grass covered remains of rooms.  At the W end of the enceinte is an irregular rectangular tower that projects boldly outside the curtain wall.  This building could well be the oldest masonry on the site and could have begun life as a keep.  Similar structures exist at Lydney, White Castle, Goodrich and Hay on Wye.  The SW curtain wall retains its wallwalk.  The SE wall has a small 'room' inside the wall at an upper level.

To the SE is an outer bailey with walls on its SE side, a corner tower on the S, and a rectangular gatehouse to the E.  The W defences are now only marked by a slope.  The gatehouse is square in plan, is three storeys high and has a doorway reached by stone steps on the E side.  There are round headed windows on the S side.

To the N of the inner ward is a further rectangular ward which appears to have never had masonry defences.  The ditch separating this from the masonry ward to the S is irregular and it is quite possible that the first castle consisted of the single rectangular tower surrounded by one large bailey that was subsequently divided into three.

A castle is apparently first recorded at Usk in 1138 when it was seized by the Welsh kings of Gwent from the Clare family.  The castle was retaken by the Clares before they died out in 1176.  The castle fell again to the Welsh in 1174 and was only regained ten years later by the king.  In 1189 the castle was given to William Marshal in marriage with the daughter of the last Clare.  He and his descendants are stated without evidence to have added greatly to the castle and remodelled the keep into a residence.  The fortress saw heavy fighting in 1233-34 when Henry III attacked it unsuccessfully.  By 1289 the powerful N tower had been built to serve as a treasury.  In the early 14th century it is stated that Elizabeth Burgh, sister of the last earl who was killed at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, built the large banqueting hall and chapel against the north curtain wall as well as a chamber block outside.  She is also stated to have remodelled keep to provide 3 storeys of living accommodation. 

The masonry in the lower, SE ward is said to date to the late 14th or early 15th century when the lordship passed to the Mortimers of Wigmore.   Owain Glyndwr burnt the town in 1402 and 1405, but the castle seems to have held out.  In 1431 William ap Thomas of Raglan was steward of the lordship and his son Sir William Herbert remodelled the keep again to serve as a steward's lodging.   By the early 16th century the steward was living in the gatehouse and the castle was beginning to decay.  By 1550 the fortress was said to be 'worth nothing' and by 1556 Roger Williams of Usk had demolished the great hall and barn.



 

Copyright©2016 Paul Martin Remfry


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